The desire to escape to somewhere remote is never greater than when you’re squashed cheek by jowl in a crowded São Paulo metro carriage.
Patagonia is an incredible place where nature overpowers you instead of concrete skyscrapers and milling crowds of people. It’s one of my favourite places to trek and get outdoors, along with the Himalayas. You can trek for hours along glaciers without seeing another soul and the sky opens out above you with almost limitless expanse.
The land of Patagonia forms the lower half of South America, shared by Chile and Argentina, and eventually peters out in the island of Tierra del Fuego and the city of Ushuaia. One of the highlights of the region is the Glacier Perito Moreno and a four hour bus ride north of there takes you to Fitzroy (also known as Cerro Chaltén) where there are some spectacular treks to be done. When I finally made it to the base of the peak after a full day walking, the wind was so strong it was almost impossible to stand upright to have my photo taken. A distinguishing feature of Patagonia is the bizarre shape of trees bent almost to the ground by the force of the elements.
Last year I walked the Singalila Trek, a six-day route which follows a ridge along the border of India and Nepal north of Darjeeling. I was there in March just a bit before the main season and it was going to be expensive to do an organised trek, so I opted to go it alone. I was told I would need a guide and a porter, but in fact I managed to get away with contracting just a porter who also led the way.
We stayed in small primitive hostels along the way, sometimes pitching in to help the hosts make “momos’ – a Tibetan style dumpling. On day four we arrived in Sandakphu to find the place shrouded in fog and clouds. The following morning it wasn’t easy to get out of bed before dawn in sub-zero temperatures, but a possible sighting of Mt Everest beckoned, so there was really no excuse to delay. As the sun rose and slowly illuminated the highest mountain in the world, it was hard not be awed.
It’s moments like that which I try to recall when I’m stuck on the commute to work.
I love boat trips. There’s something wonderful about getting out onto the open sea or a river and taking the pace down a notch or two. Travel is obviously much slower and it gives you a chance to reflect on the journey and increases the anticipation of arrival at your destination. If there is water near where I am, chances are I’ll want to to expore it.
On a recent trip to visit friends on Long Island earlier this month, we took the ferry to Block Island. Technically in Rhode Island, it’s also accessible by ferry from Montauk, the easterly-most point of Long Island. It made for a great day trip.
It’s quite touristy and not exactly cheap, but it has a wonderfully relaxed vibe and some great old clapboard houses dotted around town, many of which have been converted into boutique hotels. But the star attraction for me was the Mohegan Bluffs. You can walk to the top of these cliffs which have wonderful views and there are also steps down to an unspoilt beach, although the steps run out towards the bottom and you have to scramble down the rocks to reach the sand. You are, however, rewarded by a beautiful stretch of sand and a chance to take a dip in the ocean.
Beaches are a way of life in Brazil. For most Europeans the beach is the place where you take your bucket and spade and suntan lotion for a couple of weeks in the summer. But with many of the principal cities situated along the vast coast of Brazil, a lot of Brazilians spend a huge amount of a time at the beach every day all year round. In Rio, in particular, it’s the equivalent of a park – somewhere to sit and have a drink, catch up with friends, do some exercise, chill out.
Beaches in Brazil generally fall into two categories, those with beach bars and loud music and those where there is almost no infrastructure. I prefer the latter and, fortunately, Brazil is blessed with miles and miles of almost deserted and unbroken coastline often backed by mountains where you can walk for hours. As winter arrives in São Paulo and where it can get surprisingly chilly, it seemed like a good time to remember a few of my favourite beach getaways.
Ilha do Cardoso is a gem of an island, situated right in the south of São Paulo state. A ferry from the sleepy town of Cananeia takes you to the island in a few hours and there is a good chance of seeing dolphins en route. I visited the place a few years ago just a week before Christmas and it still felt out of season. Only two pousadas had started operations and only one restaurant was open for lunch on the day I arrived. I was hungry and decided to go for the recommended fish. In fact, the chef had only just caught the fish and was still in the process of gutting and cleaning it. Two hours passed before I got to eat, but it was delicious and well worth the wait.
Almost at the opposite end of the country lies the small village of Algodoal on the island of Maiandeua, a bus and ferry ride from Belem, the major city that lies at the mouth of the Amazon. Algodoal is situated in the Atlantic and, like Ilha do Cardoso, has no motorised traffic. It’s laid-back and gloriously underdeveloped.
Thailand gets a lot of good press and word of mouth about its beaches, but in my opinion Brazil boasts some of the finest in the world. There’s a saying in Portuguese which pretty much sums up the importance of the beach (“praia”) in Brazil: “não é minha praia” which can be rendered in English as “it’s not my cup of tea”. Brazil’s beaches are very much my cup of tea!